Six Nations: On-song Scots look for more X Factor hits to climb charts
Training incentive has paid off for Scott Johnson's side but Wales are on a run of away victories
It was not something that was greatly apparent 12 months ago, when they were en route to a Six Nations wooden spoon and whitewash – or in November, when they were getting turned over by Tonga in Aberdeen. Now, though, it is official: Scotland's got talent.
With back to back Six Nations wins under the Caledonian belt for the first time in 12 years, on the eve of Wales' visit to Murrayfield on the penultimate weekend of the 2013 championship, Scotland's defence coach Matt Taylor was asked what new measures had been taken to turn around the fortunes of a squad who were also whitewashed in the autumn. "One thing we've done is bring in an X Factor award," the former Scotland A forward and Queensland Reds coach replied. "It's an award for doing something special in a match – a try-saving tackle or getting back to help your mates.
"Sean Maitland won it against Ireland, for his ability to get back when the line was broken. The players get a green jersey to wear in training the next week. It's just another way of making the group work hard.
"We also have the PPP award – pressure, power, presence around the tackle area. We give a jersey with that on it, too. It's just trying to promote that defensive culture and the players' ability around the ball, which is something I've brought from the Reds. Kelly Brown won the PPP award against Ireland. He did really well."
Brown, Scotland's workaholic openside flanker and captain,had to do really well in around the tackle area against the Irish. His side had less than 30 per cent of possession and territory. That they managed to emerge 12-8 winners was to their considerable credit but they are unlikely to prosper again off starvation rations this afternoon.
Having got off to a false start with their 22-30 defeat against Ireland in Cardiff at the start of last month, Wales now have the scent of back-to-back titles in the Red Dragon nostrils, having won on the road in Paris and Rome. They are on a run of four away wins in the championship, a feat they last achieved in 1979. A fifth today would be an all-time record – and would put the title on the line when England visit the Welsh capital a week today.
The threat from a revived Wales team will certainly not be underestimated by the Aussie in temporary charge of the resurgent Scots. "They've probably been the form side in the northern hemisphere for the past four to five years," said Scott Johnson, who spent five years as Wales' skills coach and interim head coach. "And they've probably got their best team back. This is the pick of the litter."
Indeed, the reigning champions and 2012 Grand Slammers have the world-class Alun Wyn Jones back in harness in the second row. As in Rome two weeks ago, they will be looking to dominate up front, and for Dan Biggar and Mike Phillips to again pull the half-back strings in what are expected to be similarly precipitous conditions.
As for the Scots, who will have the tactical-kicking skills of Duncan Weir at outside-half, they will be looking to record a hat-trick of wins in the championship for the first time in the Six Nations era – the last occasion was the old Five Nations days of 1996. "All the players have been saying that we don't want the two wins to be a couple of flashes in the pan – a good win against Italy and a lucky win against Ireland," said outside centre Sean Lamont, who will be winning his 75th cap. "We need to back it up for it to mean something, to put us in with a chance of a good position in the final table when we go to Paris next week.
"Last year it was a horrible feeling to get whitewashed in the Six Nations. It was completely soul-destroying."
It was that. It was the kind of run that has players queuing up for the yellow "dunce's jersey" traditionally handed out in training in the oval-balled professional game.
"We don't have that here as yet," Taylor said. "It's something we might bring in."
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